Place North West | Birkenhead’s Gaumont cinema earmarked for housing

The cinema opened in 1938. c.Elmorovivo, via Cinema Treasures website

Sarah Townsend

Southport-based developer 79th Homes has acquired the Art Deco former cinema on Park Road East for an undisclosed sum and plans to convert it into up to 30 apartments.

The much-loved Merseyside picture house would be redeveloped into between 25-30 one- and two-bedroom flats in a project estimated to cost £5.5m, according to the developer.

The plans, which are subject to consent from Wirral Council, are at an early stage and the designs are not expected to be revealed until later in the year. Phil Seddon Associates is the architect and planning consultant for the scheme.

The 72-year-old Gaumont was built on the site of the former Electric Theatre in Birkenhead and opened in 1938. It quickly became a popular local attraction, especially during and after the Second World War. However, audiences dwindled as televisions became popular in the 1960s.

The cinema showed its last film – a double bill – Lassie’s Great Adventure and Journey to the Centre of the Earth – before closing its doors in 1964. Since then, the building has operated as a bingo hall, snooker club, roller skating rink and, more recently, a furniture store.

Part of the 79th Group, 79th Homes has delivered thousands of residential and commercial units over the past 25 years, alongside private and institutional lenders. It specialises in acquiring underused buildings and converting them into residential accommodation.

The 79th Group was established by entrepreneur David Webster and has a diversified portfolio worth around £50m, according to the company.

Jake Webster 79th Homes

Managing director Jake Webster

As well as 79th Homes – a residential and commercial lettings firm as well as a developer – the group includes high end residential developer 79th Luxury Living, and gold mining operation Lusso Tesoro, which this year agreed a deal to buy a gold mining site spanning 60 square miles in north-eastern Guinea.

Jake Webster, managing director of 79th Homes, said: “The history of [the Gaumont] is fascinating. The hand and footprints of British film star Nova Pilbeams, who starred in two of Alfred Hitchcock’s pre-Hollywood films, can still be seen on the pavement adjacent to the entrance.

“If we can, we’d like to incorporate those into the redevelopment of the building, which represents an exciting project in an area of substantial planned regeneration.”

Webster added: “Subject to planning, we are confident that we can convert this building in line with its surrounds and environment, maintaining the original façade and many of the historic, internal features, but also providing modern, quality, affordable housing that is in high demand in this area.”

Birkenhead and the wider Wirral are undergoing a significant long-term regeneration led by the local council, and, in Birkenhead town centre, by the council’s delivery partner Muse Developments.